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Now in our eighth calendar year!
PCR #394 (Vol. 8, No. 41) This edition is for the week of October 8--14, 2007.

"Eastern Promises"  by Mike Smith
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando 2007  by Andy Lalino
Halloween Brew: A Potpourri of Halloween Recommendations, Pt. 1--Books and Music  by Terence Nuzum
Book Review: The Birthday Party by Panos Karnezis  by Lisa Ciurro
Forgotten Horrors: Blood of Dracula's Castle  by ED Tucker
Mom .... Movie Notes .... Don't Tell Terence .... .... .... .... .... .... Whatever Happened To--? Chapter 30: John Rhys - Davies by Mike Smith
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Oddservations by Andy Lalino

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando 2007

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando 2007

For the first time, the Universal Studios theme parks have licensed famous horror characters as an attendance incentive for this year's Halloween Horror Nights. A bit surprising, considering Universal is, of course, a major movie studio famous for its horror films! Even more unusual, Universal had to turn, presumably, to New Line, for their selection of modern horror characters since Universal itself has been DOA in the horror genre for a good, long time. The licensed characters featured in this year's event are: Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhes, and Leatherface(from the TCM remake, not Tobe Hooper's original). Personally, I thought it was a good move for Universal/Halloween Horror Nights. It convinced me to go. The following is an account of our excursion to the event:

My wife Sandy and I left Clearwater late Thursday afternoon, running behind schedule as always. We were a little paranoid we wouldn't have time to check into our hotel, but our bags in the room, and make it to HHN by, say, 6:30pm. As luck would have it, we had very little traffic despite an O-town rush hour commute, and managed to settle in to our room, eat dinner, and make it to HHN with time to spare. So far, so good!

For the occasion, I wore my George A. Romero's Land of the Dead shirt, and gave Sandy a Fulci Zombie long-sleeve shirt, which she didn't actually wear, but wrapped around her waist (so passers-by could see the famous zombie head staring back at them). Instead of driving there and paying a hefty parking fee, our hotel offered free shuttle service (a cumbersome coach bus, actually) to the park, which was a nice convenience. After our arrival at about 6:30pm, we made our way to the entry gate where there was somewhat of a wait to get in (and have security check bags). I have to admit the entry area was pretty great. Huge, full-color banners of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface (their images were all on Tarot cards) menacingly greeted the patrons. We concocted a strategy that paid off by going on a Thursday evening, as opposed to Fri./Sat., to avoid the notorious long lines. In addition, we purchased "Express Passes" which got us preferential treatment in line, by-passing scores of One Tree Hill teens spending their 'rents money to indulge in theme park thrills.

We sauntered into the park, and happily noted there were not throngs of people wandering everywhere, which was a good sign. I took a few pictures around a theater marquee (The Pantages) which during the daytime hours featured a Special Make-Up Effects demo. Not sure why they didn't offer this show at night - it would have fit perfectly with the theme of HHN! I had a little trouble trying to get my fairly new digital camera to display the photos I just took, and wasted a good 20 minutes trying to troubleshoot the situation. A grave annoyance were these silly "scareachters" on motorcycles who kept buzzing around the main street. They didn't serve any purpose other than to tick people off and get under my skin as futility I goofed around with camera buttons. Eventually, we were saved by one of the park employees, who managed to call up the photo display screen. When in doubt about tech gear, ask a youth.

Let me say that the main reason for attending this year, besides the licensed characters, was the inclusion of a "haunted house" based on my favorite horror film (which surprisingly is from Universal): John Carpenter's The Thing. I told Sandy that this was going to have to be our first stop, which it was. If making a right directly after entering the park, The Thing: Assimilation (that's what it was called) was the first stop, which was ideal. I was a little surprised it was constructed in a large tent as opposed to one of Universal's huge sound stages, as most of the other haunted houses were. I suppose that's because JC's The Thing is somewhat of a lesser-known film. We used our Express Pass, and got to be first in line.

We first encountered an outdoor movie screen showing clips from The Thing intercut with some panicky original footage that tied-in with the theme of the house (I'll refer to this as a haunted house, FYI). I was getting the impression by the footage that this was not actually going to be a recreation of movie, but rather a "sequel", and I turned out to be right. I have to say that the screen was way too small (with the aspect ratio of a square, rather than rectangular), and the image was hard to see. It looked like the footage was taken from VHS rather than DVD or a non-compressed format. After the movie screen, we encountered a very cool Outpost 31 sign which introduced the travelers to the scene. To those unfamiliar, Outpost 31 was the Antarctic station where the action in JC's The Thing took place.

In a single-file line, we marched into a tent-like corridor, in which outpost paraphernalia was displayed (2-way radio, a percolator, medical kit) and then we next went into the maze. The idea behind this house is that The Thing had already assimilated the humans of Outpost 31 (as in the movie), and was on the loose. US soldiers were commanded to contain the biological outbreak. The house was like a chaotic run through a hazard station. Some rooms showcased The Thing in different incarnations true to the film (the Blairmonster, the Norrismonster, the kennel monster, etc.), but a lot of it was simply helmeted soldiers shouting for us to "Move it! Move it!" or warning us The Thing was loose. One interesting chamber featured R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell's character) and Childs (Keith David) in see-through tubes. It was not clear if they had been assimilated or were still human and were being preserved (I surmised the latter).

Sadly, I found The Thing: Assimilation to be a letdown. For a house depicting Antarctica, it was hot as hell in there. Designers should have pumped in some ice-cold air-conditioning to set the mood (other houses used it for effect), though, I talked to a haunted house specialist and he said that was hard to do in a tent (as opposed to an actual structure). The make-up effects were good, but I wished they were better lit, larger, and more convincingly animated. I guess I should be thankful that Universal even based a haunted house on this film at all. It was probably the best surprise since the MacFarlane Toy Company introduced The Thing action figures years back.

Our next stop was next door, where we entered Jack's Funhouse: Clown-O-Vision. Jack is an evil clown that has become the mascot of HHN, that is until Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface since stole his thunder. It's hard to keep a bad clown down, however, proven by what ultimately was a pretty good romp through a 3-D funhouse. Some of the 3-D effects truly dazzled, and, if you have a fear of clowns, this attraction will unsettle you. As good as it was, it could not hold a candle to 3-D Funhouse, a haunted house in Orlando's newest horror attraction Terror in Orlando (much more about it in Part 2 of my Orlando travel series next week).

We then moved on to our first haunted house featuring a licensed character: Friday the 13th: Camp Blood. The line was long, but we managed to get in in less than a minute with our Express Passes! Camp Blood was pretty good. It was a giant maze built into one of the Universal sound stages that depicted scenes at the camp. Counselors, covered in blood, warned everyone Jason was on the loose! There were a few well-done recreations, including Mrs. Voorhees mummified head in the candle shrine from Part II, and Jason attacking from a barn loft as he did in Part III. Don't worry about not getting the chance to see Jason in butchering action, I guarantee you won't miss him when going through!

We made a slight but very welcome diversion from the haunted houses by attending an outstanding live tribute to the Rocky Horror Picture Show ! For fans of the movie who have never experienced an actual live performance, like yours truly, this was certainly a HUGE treat!!! What a thrill it was to experience what was a loving tribute to an acclaimed midnight movie that has stood the test of time, and has been probably screened somewhere in the world since its release in 1975. The show is actually very risque, and I would not recommended it for kids (though some were present...I could never understand that...). It ran approx. 40 min., and featured the best musical moments from the film, with the exception of Meatloaf's "Hot Patootie" segment, which very much surprised me. My favorite actors were the two actresses who played Magenta and Columbia, right down to Little Nell's squeaky voice. The actor who played Brad Majors was good, but the actress playing Janet seemed slightly uncomfortable in the role. Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff were also decently portrayed.

The audience absolutely loved it, and they participated as if watching an actual midnight screening. The cast performed everything from "Science-Fiction Double Feature" to "Don't Dream It, Be It", with only a few exceptions. I have to say, the show was easily a highlight of the nights, and if you go, do not miss it. It takes place on the stage typically reserved for the Beetlejuice Show.

Ah, the late-night, double-feature picture show.

I wanna go.

After the exhilarating Rocky Horror show, our next excursion was to the Sawyer house for some good, ol' fashioned hu-man BAR-B-Q! Yes sir-ee, it's time for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Flesh Wounds! My feelings were a little mixed about this house in particular, being that it was based on the remake and not the original. I've seen the remake, and though it had its moments, its crazy family simply was not very memorable, nor was the sequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Conversely, I admittedly do like the design of the "new" Leatherface. In fact, it's the mask I like most since the original. I'd say for this particular house, even with our passes, we spent about 6 minutes in line, which still wasn't bad, considering the regular line was very long and people had to have been waiting for at least an hour.

The TCM house featured characters from the remake (the old guy in the wheelchair) and a bunch of Texas sheriffs paying homage to R. Lee Ermy's character. At one point you run into a room divider made of hanging sausages which smelled like real meat, which was a nice touch. Also, near the end of the "ride" you'll encounter hanging body bags with REAL bodies inside them! Creepy! And like Jason in Camp Blood, you'll get to see lots of Leatherface.

We went right from TCM to ANOES (that'd be A Nightmare on Elm Street) haunted house, with the moniker Dreamwalkers. Out of the three houses devoted to licensed characters, I think I liked this one best. When you first enter the sound stage, you'll see a pretty accurate depiction of the Elm Street house facade, with the skin-crawling "One, Two, Freddy's Comin' for you" rhyme piped in overhead. After you enter the house, you go through a living room, then a cool girl's bedroom which looks like it's been tipped on its side. Then you'll realize you're now in dreamland. Taking cues from Dream Warriors, you will encounter a chamber with a gaggle of teens going through a sleep study in a laboratory in which they're suddenly jolted awake by Freddy. There's also an homage to A New Nightmare where you'll enter a dream world similar to the one at the climax of that film.

For a change of seasons, we next visited Psychoscareapy: Home for the Holidays, a demented haunted house depicting a very sick view of Santa Claus and the holiday season.

Next door to Psychoscareapy was my favorite house of the night: Dead Silence: The Curse of Mary Shaw, based on the movie. Okay, so Dead Silence wasn't the greatest horror movie in the world, but it had a great ending, ventriloquist dummies, and decent production value thanks to the team behind Saw. This one actually exceeded my expectations in comparison to the other houses. I didn't necessarily think the character of Mary Shaw (the supernatural villain of Dead Silence) was worthy of a theme park haunted house, but boy, was I wrong. She turned out to be a very scary and formidable figure within the corridors as she stalked from afar. She's a skinny old lady with a ghastly specter-face which I guarantee will give you chills. There's also a cool graveyard scene (with a Mary Shaw tombstone) and creepy dummies throughout. I have to tell you, it made me want to see the movie again!

I didn't want to leave without doing my virgin The Mummy ride. Sadly, it was this ride that replaced King Kong, which I was bummed about (especially since Jackson's version of KK came out a few years ago!), but we went for it anyway. Earlier in the night, the ride was down, but we went by a couple of hours later, and they got it up and running again. The line was surprisingly long, even for Express Pass holders. In fact, I have to say it was the longest line of the night - and it wasn't even for a haunted house! I found the waiting area (in which we had to walk up stairs!) was cheezy-looking. Busch Gardens does a better job recreating Egyptian ruins. The ride itself is actually an in-the-dark roller coaster! I didn't know this, and neither did my wife, so it was completely unexpected! She was about to have my head on a platter for making her ride it, being that she doesn't like roller coasters - especially ones in the dark! There were some cool effects, such as an animatronic mummy that warns you before the thrills begin, but for the most part, just enjoy the ride.

I was a little surprised that Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface were not stalking the park and scaring the hell out of the guests. At least if they were there, we didn't see them. Also surprised the Terminator show was not operating. One of the workers there said they mar re-open it later this year.

We wrapped up the night at about the Witching Hour, but first I visited a few gift shops to check out all the cool Halloween/horror stuff for sale. The friendly employees struck up conversations with me and gave me inside information on some of the houses and other elements of the park, which was cool. All-in-all, I can honestly say this was the best Halloween Horror Nights we've ever been to. Considering the last time we went was in 2001 - and just one month after Sept. 11th - I'm glad to say it was under much better circumstances.

Islands of Adventure

The following day, Sandy and I ventured to Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure. This is my favorite theme park, but I have to say its lack of new rides is wearing thin. If you've never been before, it's somewhat of a fanboy's paradise. There are plenty of retro "lands" and elements to groove on: Dr. Seuss World (well, this is mainly for kids), a prehistoric world, an Atlantis world, a Medieval world, a cartoon world, and even a Marvel superhero world!

I had been here about three times in the past, so I knew the layout. Sandy doesn't like roller coasters, so I knew those for the most part were out of the question. Laugh if you will, but we actually enjoyed some of the Dr. Seuss rides! We went on an elevated ride that takes you around a Seuss world, and then a funhouse-type car ride which was cute. I have to say the designers did a great job creating this wonderland based on Dr. Seuss' classic children's books.

Our path led to the kingdom of Atlantis, when it started to rain pretty heavily. We took refuge in the Mythos Cafe (one of my favorite places in the park), but the food prices gave us sticker shock. We had to wait about a half hour until the rain stopped, but then moved on to Medieval world, where we split a smoked turkey leg. Man, those things are good! Sandy and I rode a pretty wimpy roller coaster next to the larger and more ferocious Dueling Dragons coaster, which was just her speed.

Off to prehistoric world, and though it's not my favorite movie, the Jurassic Park "River Adventure" ride is pretty awesome. The dinos along the way are okay, but you just can't beat the giant T. Rex right before the big drop! It's an incredible experience.

I really dig the comic world, largely due to the fact that it pays homage to so many bygone classics: Crock, Tumbleweeds, Blondie, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, Shoe, and many others. For the most part, however, its a very soggy water park in which you will get severely drenched. Each time we go, I can be sure Sandy wants to tackle all the wet rides that are sure to leave my shoes and briefs soaked for days upon end. Sho' 'nuff, she headed right for the Dudley Dooright flume ride, in which we were soaked down in waves that could have tipped over the S.S. Poseidon.

Interesting story: Last time Sandy and I were at the park, the Dudley Dooright ride stopped just as we were at the midpoint of the big incline! It took them easily a half hour to come get us out of the ride, in which we had to maneuver ourselves out of a wet car at a 45 degree angle. That was certainly no fun, and luckily we escaped a similar fate this time. We also rode the Popeye barges and got even more soaked to the bone.

And then it started raining again!

We managed to visit the Marvel Superhero world, and Sandy got to go on her favorite ride - Dr. Doom. We also rode my favorite ride - Spider-Man - twice. A highlight was visiting a gift shop where I took a lot of photos of Marvel memorabilia and sculptures.

Crazed Fanboy Hooters Pow-Wow: Mike Smith in town

We all wish it were under happier circumstances, but Nolan Canova had informed me that his lifelong friend and PCR columnist Mike Smith was in town for a brief stay due to a sad passing. It was one of the few opportunities to see Mike, who for many years has called Kansas City home, so we all gathered at the Gandy Hooters to give a warm hello to the venerable contributor and acclaimed Jaws fanatic. Mike was every bit as warm and witty as his PCR persona suggests, as was his fiancee Juanita. He was obviously pleased to be reunited with Nolan as well as meet a new generation of PCR writers in Chris Woods, Terence Nuzum, and Paul Guzzo.

Most of us writers wanted to give Nolan and Mike the chance to chat and catch up, so we didn't want to interject too many fanboy-cities into the talk mix. Conversations mainly centered around cult and horror films, and (thankfully) minimal gossip about local indie filmmakers and fanboys. This get-together also marked the first time I had formally met Paul Guzzo.

Mike, just wanted to say it was nice meeting you and Juanita, and I hope to see you again soon.

Next Week: Orlando Weekend Part II: Terror in Orlando.

"Oddservations" is ©2007 by Andy Lalino.  The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.